I have a hard time sorting out for myself what I’m worth. I’ve done all the wrong things at the negotiating table when presented with job offers. I’ve taken on additional work without compensation. I’ve donated time and energy to projects outside of the office. I’ve viewed my work as a ministry and therefore accepted compensation below fair market value. And I have been perfectly okay with these choices, grateful even, proud to give more than is expected of me, eager to prove my worth even when no one is looking.
Self-worth is a thing I’ve wrestled with since fifth grade, when I moved from a school district with thirty-five kids in each grade to one with 250, all of whom knew a gazillion more things about the world than me. I only knew what I loved, and that was books, horses, my family, and my family’s obsessions, which primarily entailed agriculture, snowmobiles, country music, and all things old (antique tractors, stamp collections, and century homes, for instance).
I didn’t know yet exactly how uncool I was, but I knew I wasn’t making any friends presenting a report on the types of doorknobs you would need to restore a 150-year-old house. Suddenly, instead of feeling confident about my knowledge of our family tree, I felt gawky and super shy and not quite smart enough to get into the honors classes I was dying to join. Mrs. Schuster (that wasn’t her real name, but it sounded just as harsh) didn’t think I could cut it. And there went my self-confidence.
I’ll show her, I thought to myself. And I’ve been trying to prove my worth ever since.
I’m sure it wasn’t just Mrs. Schottenstein’s (still not her real name) fault, or the school district’s largeness, or my unique rural upbringing that I was so proud of and still cherish. It is a complex chemical composition of nurture and nature and environment and neuron wiring twisted around that slippery thing we call a soul, all of which is in constant flux until we die. Until then, we are influenced by choices. We are influenced by peers. We are influenced by parents. We are influenced by society. Everything is a measuring stick asking you to stand up against it and see just how you add up.
It is because of all this that I struggle valuing what I’m worth, even to this day. When I turned to God and studied his Word early on in my college years, I learned all kinds of things about my worth that helped to chip away the doubt, reveal the gem I am confident he thinks I am. I heard and still hear regularly his promises: He has redeemed me. He has called me by my name. I am his. (See Isa. 43:1.)
“You are worth more than many sparrows!” (Matt. 10:31) he has scolded as I hold out my empty palms in want of worth, feeling empty.
He has loved me with an everlasting love.
Even knowing this, deriving my self-worth from the God of the universe who makes such promises and audacious declarations, it is still difficult to ascertain my value, or perhaps more correctly, the value of my time and my talents. It’s much easier to take “You are worth more than many sparrows” figuratively, as in, Yeah, yeah, I get it, God. You love me even more than the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, or, Yeah, yeah, God. You’ll take care of me, so I should stop worrying. I understand Proverbs 31:10, “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies,” best when taken to mean, yes, she’s priceless. Can’t put a price tag on that one.
But what about when you do have to put a price tag on yourself? When you are faced with a job offer or someone asks you to do something and you have to decide, How much am I worth? This is messy business for me, both as a woman and as a Christian, where humility and service are virtues, and arrogance and greed are vices.
“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought,” Paul says in Romans 12:3, “but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you”. This is in the passage about the body of Christ, figuring out your part as Big Toe or Lung.
I get hung up in the “more highly than you ought” part and forget that sober judgment means a fair assessment. Humility is not self-degradation. You are, after all, worth far more than rubies. Humility is thinking of yourself exactly as you are, being aware and confident in the gifts and talents God has given you to do good works (see Eph. 2:10). Nothing less. Nothing more.
Recognizing this, it’s our responsibility to know the market value of our own skills. It is our responsibility to weigh all the sacrifices. And on the opposite side of every yes there is a no to something—or someone—else, so how much is that time, that energy, that service, that gift of yours worth? If you accept an opportunity just because you know you can do it, what are you exchanging for it as a result? Leisure time? Time with your family? Resources? Peace? Is it worth the sacrifice? Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. As more individuals are added to that sloppy chemistry equation, the mix gets even messier: add in a spouse, add in children, add in daily living expenses and giving opportunities. It’s a lot to balance, but the bottom line is this: He has called us by name. We are his.
Use that as your baseline, and build from there, being confident of this, that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Phil. 1:6). We are worth more than many sparrows. Let us value ourselves accordingly.